Avoiding an Israeli civil war

Posted: Jan 09, 2005 12:00 AM

JERUSALEM, Israel -- In his testimony before the Israeli Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tuesday, Avi Dichter, Director of the Israeli Security Agency described some short-term threats inherent in carrying out Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to pull the Israeli Defense Force out of the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank. "In a situation where Israel is not in control of the Philadelphi corridor [which separates Gaza from the Sinai Peninsula]," Dichter warned,"terrorists arriving from Lebanon are liable to infiltrate through it into the Gaza Strip and there is the distinct possibility that in a short while the Gaza Strip will turn into south Lebanon."

Dichter also cautioned that the current "trickle" of arms smuggling through the corridor is liable to turn into a "river." As to the northern West Bank, Dichter said that it "is an area with terrorist potential that already proved itself in the past. Therefore nothing should surprise us. If we evacuate the area and turn it into Area A, under complete Palestinian security control, we are liable to get an area there that operates by the Gaza model."

Dichter presented Israel with real cause for concern over Sharon's plan, but his analysis was far from exhaustive. He limited his remarks solely to the realm of terrorist warfare. Since the 1967 Six Day War, the view of the leaders of the IDF's General Staff has been that in a conventional war with Egypt and Jordan participating, Palestinian forces can wreak havoc on Israel's lines of communications moving from west to east and north to south. As a result, until 1993, the view of Israel's defense establishment had always been that from a strategic perspective, the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories constituted too great a threat to Israel's national security to be an acceptable option.

This week the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Egypt has been secretly advancing a nuclear armament program. Apparently aided by Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan, Egypt reportedly was experimenting with uranium as recently as last year. Then, too, two months ago the IAEA found plutonium particles near an Egyptian nuclear facility. A nuclear-armed Egypt would no doubt feel much more comfortable opening conventional hostilities against Israel, which, given an Egyptian nuclear threat, would be hard-pressed to use its own nonconventional arsenal to deter an Egyptian offensive.

Dichter also did not speak of the demographic threat that a Palestinian state would constitute to Israel. The reason Israelis are given by Sharon and his underlings and allies for the withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank, and, as Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told The Jerusalem Post recently, for further withdrawals from the rest of the West Bank in the near future, is demography. The Palestinians, Israelis are told, are so numerous that if Israel doesn't give them a state they will overwhelm it and either turn the country into a racist regime where a Jewish minority controls an Arab majority or Israel will cease to be a Jewish state altogether. That is, the Israeli public is told, the choice is among a democratic Jewish Israel, a theocratic, racist Israel or a non-Jewish democracy.

There are three main problems with this view. First, it makes no sense numerically. During the decade since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, the number of Jews in Israel rose by around one million. The Arab population in Israel has also grown significantly so that Arab citizens of Israel still make up roughly 20 percent of the population. Additionally, the Palestinian population has risen significantly, mainly as a result of the tens of thousands of foreign Arabs who entered the areas with the PLO. If past experience is a guidepost for future developments, it is reasonable to assume that the number of Arabs, like the number of Jews, will continue to grow significantly after the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories. The demographic argument, therefore, is not about numbers but about intentions. The view is that if a Palestinian state is established, Arabs will no longer wish to overrun Israel and create a "one-state solution," happy as they will be to live under their own leaders.

Yet this assumption ignores what the Palestinian leadership is telling us will happen. In his recent jaunt through Syria and Lebanon, PLO chairman and soon to be "elected" PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas vowed that there will be no peace until millions of foreign Arabs (referred to as"Palestinian refugees"), who have been forced to live in UN internment camps (referred to as "refugee camps") for the past 56 years, are allowed to move to Israel. US President George W. Bush announced last April that the US would not support a Palestinian demand to have these people enter into Israel as part of a peace deal. So Israelis can assume relatively safely that in the initial period of statehood, these Arabs in Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere will instead move to the Palestinian state.

The question is: What will they do there? The PA has received more foreign aid per capita in constant dollars over the past decade from the international community than all of Western Europe received in the Marshall Plan, and yet the Palestinian economy is in far worse condition by every indicator than it was before the Oslo process was instigated. Yasser Arafat and his minions, who now surround Abbas, systematically stole, diverted and misappropriated some $6.5 billion in international aid. This impoverishment of the Palestinians was done by design. The purpose was to cultivate rage and extremism throughout Palestinian society as Arafat and his toadies like Abbas understood that a happy, prosperous populace does not extol the virtues of suicide bombing to its children.

Given Abbas's statements in recent days and weeks in praise of terrorism and in condemnation of "the Zionist enemy," as well as his deep involvement in Palestinian corruption and terror financing, it strains credulity to believe that he will oversee a process of reform over PA budgets and militias. Rather, it is safe to assume that, under his leadership, Palestinian society will continue to be characterized by destitution and rage.

If this situation is further exacerbated by the entry of millions of destitute Arab immigrants into the rump Palestinian state, what does Israel think will happen? Since Abbas, and the rest of the PA leadership, not to mention Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have all proclaimed consistently that their demand is for these Arabs to move to Israel, can there be any doubt that they will point to their economic desolation and blame it on Israel's "obstinate refusal" to allow these hostile foreigners to live inside its borders? And what does Israel''s leadership think that Europe's response to this demand will be, given the European view, passively supported by the US, that the current terror war is Israel's fault?

The public debate in Israel regarding the soundness of Sharon's withdrawal and expulsion plan has been completely silent on these issues. Indeed, Dichter's remarks about the specter of a massive escalation in the terror threat to Israel received but a yawn, as it was discounted as an"alarmist, gloom-and-doom scenario" by the Israeli major newspapers and broadcast media.

The only issue that interests the Israeli media today is the threat manifested by a tiny number of Israeli opponents to Sharon's withdrawal and expulsion plan (Dichter placed it as a few dozen), who may use violence against soldiers sent to throw them out of their homes and communities in Gaza and the northern West Bank.

In Wednesday's papers in covering Dichter's remarks at the Knesset, his statements about the threat of increased terrorism after the withdrawal plan received less than one hundred words of coverage in both Ma'ariv and Yediot Ahronot, which together enjoy an absolute majority share of the Israeli newspaper market. At the same time, both papers devoted five pages, including their cover pages, to the issue of Israeli opponents to the pullout plan.

On the radio and television, there has been saturation coverage of the prospect that thousands of soldiers may refuse to participate in the expulsion of Jews from their homes, while the strategic implications of the program have been systematically ignored by everyone. Major Israeli cultural icons like television talk show host and actor Yair Lapid have demonized the Israelis who live on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, extolling the virtues of a civil war. Lapid argues that such a war would not be a war between brothers because, as far as he's concerned, anyone who wants to stay in Gaza and the West Bank and opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state is no longer to be considered a "real" Israeli and hence is no longer part of the family.

Old-guard military establishment types like Labor parliamentarian and (res.) Brig.-Gen. Ephraim Sneh are openly calling for a civil war. In an opinion column published in Ma'ariv two weeks ago, Sneh wrote, "85 years after its establishment, the United States of America was drawn into a cruel and destructive civil war, but the results of that war formed the democratic character of the giant country. The confrontation among [Israelis] is also unpreventable." Totally ignoring the threats emanating from Palestinian society today and those likely to arise in the coming months and years, Sneh wrote, "Even if the confrontation will be bloody, the toll will be minuscule in comparison to the blood and sacrifice that more decades of conflict with the Palestinians will extract from us."

If Israelis can be brought to believe that the dangers that Sharon's plans manifest relate only to the pesky, overwhelmingly religious Israelis who live in the areas he wishes to empty of Jews, rather than to the country as a whole, then there can be little doubt that there will be bloody confrontations (provoked mainly by the Left) between Jew and Jew. On the other hand, if Israelis are willing to recognize that the dangers inherent in his plans relate to the entire state, then not only would such internecine violence be consummately avoidable, the people of Israel would also be able to craft policies that would ensure the wellbeing and security of Israeli society as a whole for decades to come.

Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East Fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, DC and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post where this article first appeared.